My first job wasn’t my dream job. This is something I remind college students of constantly (I speak frequently each year on college campuses and in business schools), especially when they ask me after a talk how they can turn their passion into their profession. While magazine covers are full of young people who hit it rich (looking at you, Zuck), we’d all be wise to remember that these are the exceptions, not the rule. Many of the most successful entrepreneurs I know are those who grinded it out working for someone else for a while before they launched their big idea into the world. Therefore, I happily now tell anyone - college student or not - that your goal isn’t to go out and find your dream job. It’s to find your first job.
Here’s why a first job matters:
1) Experience counts
How’s your LinkedIn profile looking? Bare? There’s an easy way to change that - get to work. Whether it’s hourly work, a seasonal gig, or an entry-level salaried job, starting somewhere is crucial. First off, you’ll be earning at least some cash (which is a good thing), and you’ll start to add to your resume. Especially if you get on with a big company - Starbucks, Amazon, Costco - then future employers will know that you know how to work, having been trained by folks who know what they’re doing.
2) Connections matter
You never know who you’re going to meet, but I can guarantee you that you’ll meet exactly no one if you just stay in your apartment scanning Facebook and binging Netflix. (Except maybe your roommate or your cat.) Thus, working any job will allow you to start building a network of people that will come in handy later. My first boss is still a connection I can rely on and is currently a sounding board for a new initiative we’re launching at my current company.
3) You can learn anywhere
Think all your learning stops after college? Then you have a few things to learn. I never took a business call in college. But the on-the-job training I got in my first job out of college (at a hotel) still serves me well. It was there (inside a Fortune 500 company) that I learned what a P&L statement was, how to sell, how to interview job candidates, and a host of other skills that I didn’t pick up on my college campus as a history major. Be a sponge and a first job can be a crash course in whatever you need or want it to be.
4) Opportunity knocks when you’re busiest
My career path has been anything but linear. And even when I didn’t feel like I was working in my dream job, it was preparing me with chances to learn, fail, pick myself up, try new things, make connections, dream up big ideas, and finally be able to give my own company a shot. But I needed to stay busy so that I could see opportunities and needs in the market creep up. When they did, I had the skills, connections, and drive to seize on those opportunities.
Just get to work. The rest will then work itself out. But your dream job rarely will find you randomly on a Tuesday while you’re bumming around. You’ve got to go out and grab it.
Sam Davidson is a four-time entrepreneur who is the current co-founder and CEO of Batch, a gift and retail company that operates in Nashville, TN and Austin, TX. He frequently speaks at colleges and conventions about leadership, entrepreneurship, and change. He lives in Nashville and is the proud dad to a six-year-old daughter who no longer gives him her artwork for free. (He has to buy it.)